Page last updated at 18:39 GMT, Wednesday, 27 August 2008 19:39 UK

Man convicted over Shia flogging

Syed Mustafa Zaidi
Zaidi had denied child cruelty

A devout Shia Muslim has been convicted of child cruelty after forcing two boys to beat themselves during a religious ceremony, in an unprecedented case.

The jury at Manchester Crown Court found 44-year-old Syed Mustafa Zaidi guilty of two counts of child cruelty.

The boys, aged 13 and 15, were forced to beat themselves with a zanjeer whip, with five curved blades.

Zaidi, of Station Road, Eccles, Salford, also flogged himself during the ceremony in January.

The court heard the boys admit that they had wanted to beat themselves, but not under duress and not with the whip.

This is a part of our religion

The Ashura ceremony takes place during Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar and commemorates the death of Husayn, a central figure in the Shia faith.

Zaidi admitted he allowed them to use the bladed whip, but denied his actions were wrong, saying: "This is a part of our religion."

A local Muslim leader Safdar Zia has said the community was now working with police and the Crown Prosecution Service on a code of practice for the Ashura practice.

"We cannot eliminate this practice, but we can and will work to a code of practice so that the children don't get hurt, the law isn't broken, and the people who do want to take part don't get prosecuted," he said.

"We have to take into account people's beliefs and their rights, and we will respect them.

"But we are not above the law and we never will be and working with the authorities is the best chance we've got to prevent any harm being brought against any children."

Zanjeer whip used in the ceremony
The boys suffered cuts from the zanjeer five-bladed whip

During the trial the 14-year-old boy, who was 13 at the time, said that during the ceremony Zaidi told them both: "Start doing it, start doing it."

The child told the court: "We said 'we don't want to do it'."

He said he saw Zaidi flogging himself before washing blood from the whip and handing it to the 15-year-old boy.

The boy said Zaidi continued to pressure the older teenager to whip himself.

He said the 15-year-old boy "swung it once or twice and said 'I don't want to do it anymore'."

Zaidi told the court: "It was an emotional time and the children were happy, they asked for it. No one forced anyone.

"If I'd known this would be the result of breaking the law I would never have done it."

This is a very unusual case and the first of its kind to be prosecuted by the
CPS in England and Wales

Carol Jackson, CPS

The boys both received multiple lacerations to their backs, mainly superficial, with several deeper cuts.

Supt Nadeem Butt, of Greater Manchester Police, said: Zaidi had "abused the vulnerability" of the children, gone against the wishes of his own community and broken the law.

Carol Jackson, of the Greater Manchester Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), said the prosecution "was not an attack upon the practices or ceremonies of Shia Muslims".

"Indeed, the prosecution relied as part of its evidence upon the president of the local Shia community centre," Ms Jackson said.

"We are satisfied that, given the age of the children involved, the coercion employed by Syed Mustafa Zaidi, who did not accept that he was wrong, and the possibility of such an incident occurring again, the decision to prosecute by the Crown Prosecution Service was the correct one.

"This is a very unusual case and the first of its kind to be prosecuted by the CPS in England and Wales."

Zaidi will be sentenced on 24 September.

Boys 'happy' to flog themselves
22 Aug 08 |  Manchester
Boy, 14, 'forced to flog himself'
19 Aug 08 |  Manchester
Boys 'flogged' during Shia ritual
18 Aug 08 |  Manchester
Man charged after Muslim ceremony
24 Jan 08 |  Manchester

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